We continue this week with a short selection from the book of Fr Robert Hughes Benson, "The Friendship of Christ":
The first stage of the Purgative Way, it has been seen, concerns things external to actual religion: the soul is gradually deepened and sifted by being taught the essential valuelessness both of them and of the emotions which they awaken. The first step of the Illuminative Way, then, may be said to lie, by a paradox, in the instruction which the soul receives as regards their value. (For Grace, it must be remembered, is even more paradoxical than Nature.) In the Purgative Way the soul learns that external things cannot, in themselves, bear her weight – that they are worth nothing. In the Illuminative Way she learns how to use them rightly – that they are worth a great deal.
For example: A soul often complains that she is hindered in her progress by some apparently unnecessary trouble – the constant companionship, let us say, of some person whose temperament jars continually and inevitably with her own. Or it is some untiring temptation from which she cannot escape; some occasion of sin, constantly present, a thorn in the flesh, or a warp in the mind. Or it may be that, by some deprivation, by a bereavement which withdraws all human light and strength from her life, she feels herself maimed and her wings clipped in her struggles upward to God.
Now the most elementary stage in the Illuminative Way consists usually in light gained from our Lord whereby the soul sees the value of those external things. She sees, for instance, that she could never gain supernatural patience or sympathy or largeness of charity, unless there were present always with her some personality which demanded its exercise. Her natural irritation at this unavoidable companionship is a sign that she needs the exercise; and the demand of constant effort at self-control, and finally of actual sympathy, is precisely the means by which she gains the virtue. Or, again, in the case of temptation, there is, humanly, no other way by which certain graces can be assimilated than by their exercise – no other way, for example, by which natural ignorance can be transformed into supernatural innocence; above all, no other way by which the soul can be taught to rely utterly and perseveringly upon God. For it was by some such constant spur as this that Saint Paul himself was taught (2 Corinthians 12:7-9), as he openly confesses, to understand that it is only when human weakness is most sensible of itself that Divine Grace is most effective, or, as he says, “perfected.” Finally, by bereavements which seem to shatter the whole life, which leave the weaker character, that has clung to the stronger, helpless and sprawling and wounded – by this means and this means only is the soul taught to adhere utterly to God